Japan – Food

I loved the food in Japan, I was even converted to eating Japanese breakfast every day instead of toast or a croissant. So I was eating fish at three meals per day. I also walked a great deal, more than 85 miles in 12 days, with no pains in my feet, I think the reported benefits of fish oil are indeed true.

Japanese food is very much based around Dashi, which is a stock made from dried fish flakes – usually tuna and kelp – large leaves of a particular kind of seaweed. Also Miso paste which is made by fermenting beans.

A stall selling dried fish flakes of many varieties. You can of course buy ready-made dashi but its not hard to make and has a far superior flavour. The smell is quite hard to get used to, so I didn’t get too close.

Rice crackers with seaweed

 

Mung beans I think
Bunches of very fresh herbs are everywhere, these are coriander.
Or maybe these are!
Little flower stalks are often laid on top of cooked food or sushi as decoration but are eaten too, they’re quite perfumed and have a slightly medicinal taste. As I understand it, they are flowers from a kind of mint or basil known as Shiso, the leaves are also used and are put on the plate, before the food.
Shiso leaves
Wasabi roots sitting in water to keep fresh and cool. Their amazing flavour evaporates(?) extremely fast and in the best restaurants, its not only grated fresh every day but fresh for each served dish.
I think these are a type of Okra, sadly I didn’t get to try them.
Two varieties of aubergine than are readily available in the UK. Tiny deep purple ones and plum light mauve ones, used for different reasons, I suppose.
The head of that day’s tuna, being kept on ice, to show how fresh the stall’s wares are.
Asparagus, lovely fat spikes, at the height of the season in early October. Delicious as Yakatori, wrapped in bacon (very thinly cut Japanese style) and cooked on skewers over a charcoal grill – with a beer of course.
Wooden spoons in a huge range of sizes
Japanese cooking knives, a famous shop where they make the knives themselves and sharpen right before you buy it, to make sure it is ultra-sharp.
All sorts of small china tableware, mostly chopstick rests and tiny dishes for wasabi, grated daikon, pickled ginger  or soy sauce.
A sushi and sashumi banquet, glorious. Three or 4 types of fish, mackerel, prawns, salmon roe, omelette and pickled ginger
Another fabulous meal or raw tuna decorated with cucumber and Shiso leaves and flowers, wasabi and radish, a bowl of miso soup waiting with its lid on to keep warm. Soy sauce and pickled plums in the dishes at the back. Pickled plums are a revelation, so delicious.
Horribly out of focus, maybe beer had been taken already. A massive dish of minced raw tuna, of the best kind, there are three types, the basic tuna which is most likely cooked, the middle tuna which can be eaten raw or cooked and the best kind which is much higher fat content and most usually eaten raw. Then a large dollop of salmon eggs plus the usual decorative edible additions. There is some rice under there somewhere too.
An unusual restaurant in Tokyo in that everything is specifically organic, free range, all sources known and a high proportion of vegetables. Here are tofu, toast with pate and fried sweet potato, as well as couscous with herbs and mixed salad of lettuce, beetroot and chicken.
Part of a 7 or was it 9 course banquet at a hotel in Hakone in the mountains. Sadly I didn’t keep the printed menu (in English) so I don’t know exactly what any of it was. There were some gloriously unexpected tastes, not all of which were palatable but mostly they were utterly delicious. I can recognise raw tuna, raw white fish, maybe sea bream, cucumber, radish (the red slice under the tuna), wasabi paste, a daisy? the white rectangles are bamboo shoots, I think and theres a Physallis in its papery outer layer at the back.
Another banquet at the restaurant used in the filming of Kill Bill. A huge noisy, crowded, theatrical place with excellent food cooked to order on massive grills right in front of us (to the right in this shot) We saw a famous Sumo wrestler there, he needed four chairs, two at the back and another one under each leg.
And finally – street food, there are tiny kitchens all over Tokyo and Kyoto serving first quality rapidly cooked to order food of many types. In this one you can sit at the bar and in others you just take away. Also no-one throws away any rubbish, the packaging/containers are either left at the stall or taken home. Public waste bins are few and far between, as it is understood that each person deals with their own waste. It makes for incredibly clean streets.

 

Japan – People

I am always nervous of photographing people, it seems so intrusive. I do sometimes ask and I’m happy to not take their photo if they say no – of course. But actually asking can be awkward, embarrassing and often just too late, the moment has gone.

This little girl was part of a wedding – she wanted to be in the bridal procession but was not allowed to be. Her mother and grandmother spent quite a few minutes trying to restrain her, but she eventually escaped. There was a big crowd watching!
Here she is – running for freedom!
Here’s the bride and groom with their families.
Its a huge thing to get married at the main Shinto shrine in Tokyo, not everyone gets to do this. They have a ceremony and then parade in a set path around the shrine grounds before the photo shoot in the glade of trees.
She looked so sad but such an enigmatic face and expression, i daren’t ask, I knew she would say no. I tried to look as though I was photographing the shrine buildings but I think she saw me, I feel sorry for that.
What a distinguished looking gentleman, i think he might have wanted to be photographed, he wandered around in the temple grounds, adopting rather posed stances. i was too slow for tis one, its slightly out of focus.
Peaceful moments in the grounds of Odawara fort in the late afternoon sun.
These two spent quite a long time trying out different poses with their stuffed rabbit, trying to get just the right selfie. I deliberately caught them between poses.
A school group were practising and then performing a song with actions, to make a video at Odawarra fort, – they were accompanied by 4 volunteers dressed in traditional costume. The teachers welcomed us to take photos. The children were thrilled and wanted to see the images we took.
In the street where people go to parade in costumes (Cosplay)I saw her and I asked if i could take her picture, she was terribly shy but her friends encouraged her, then she broke into this gorgeous smile, and performed the ubiquitous hand gesture.
This lady seemed reluctant to believe she was no longer 20 but kudos for the style!
The Beatles got everywhere didn’t they?! Loving the matched colours though.
Shibuya station, one of the busiest in Tokyo, there’s a bus station right outside where guys in uniform with LED lighting tracks in their jackets and red sabres, orchestrate the passengers into queues and then usher them onto the buses, finishing with a bow to the bus driver!

 

I came across this man in a side street in Yanaka, Tokyo, he seemed to be making a plan of street services, he spoke no English but I managed to ask Shashin? which is Japanese for photo! He happily agreed, whilst fighting the wind from whipping away his drawing.
This girl was absorbed by her mum’s phone, she had just a minute before, been taking a selfie, big grin on her face. Sadly I was too slow and also a bit reticent to photograph a child.

 

I asked her just as she moved the poster from in front of her face, held up my camera and pointed, she nodded, I clicked!
I took this in Odawara at the fort. He had dip-died his dogs ears! One pink one orange, he turned away and took up the exact same pose as the dog – irresistible.
On holidays and weekends lots of young people wear full kimono clothes and visit their local temple.

Our group waiting for the tutors to arrive with the hire cars. Shades of the “Usual Suspects” A bit of attitude going on as well though.

Architecture of Toulouse and Castres

Toulouse Blagnac airport, new terminal. Ingenious wood slats behind the glazing panels filters the sun but lets in plenty of

 

light.

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The approach from the plane into the terminal, none of that grey bland utilitarian style here, it is perfectly functional and the yellow is joyous.
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From the outside you see the slatted wood but not the coloured glass dots that are placed at crossing points.
Architecture, France, Airport
Simple glass barriers along the walkways are half-painted in a delightful maritime blue, a sort of abstract beach scene perhaps!
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None of those hideous hard plastic chairs here, just soft red comfort.
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Even on the sunniest of days the light inside is soft with no glare – a calm space, just right when waiting to board a plane.
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Vertical tube lights hanging over the stairwell
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Wooden slats punctuated by circles of coloured glass at the crossing points. A subtle reference to stained glass windows maybe?
corten
An unusual gateway to a school, water-jet cut out lettering in Corten steel.

Castres

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The weir in the river, looking like an abstract oil painting
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River-side living – cantilevered balconies at every level

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Classical references in this old chapel.
corten steel
Some more Corten steel cut-out lettering, this time the letters have been fixed on supports in front of their corresponding gaps.
gardens
Ripe for an abstract linocut print maybe? The formal gardens at the Bishop’s Palace by the river

 

Chicago

Chicago
A pigeon, with excellent taste, fascinated by the guide’s description of Anthony Calder’s Flamingo, standing outside a Mies Van der Rohe building

For four days I wandered this amazing city, my emotional state switching back and forth from heightened anxiety to awe and wonderment.

The suburbs are reputedly very scary places, the maps marked with every reported serious violent crime would put one off from visiting alone. However I didn’t look at those maps, I just booked an AirB&B and took my chances.

As it happened, I was perfectly safe  in the area known as Grand Boulevard down in the south towards the end of the Green Line train, 47th street station.

The first person I met when I got off the train after my flight from London was a white policeman in his car with his partner. He said ‘ Lady, what are you doing here?’ You have to imagine the incredulous tone of his voice and the weight of the stone falling into my stomach.

I explained that I was staying a few days at an Air B&B, he said  ‘we’ll follow you till you get inside the door, don’t go out at night, don’t use the train, get an Uber cab to come right to your door”.  With fear and some confusion, I trundled down the road with my shiny new wheeled suitcase, to the house, knowing I was being watched (an odd feeling in itself). I accessed the apartment and drank a large gin and tonic – duty free from Gatwick Airport.

And so I began my four days with such a burden of fear, it plagued my sleep and became my constant companion, even downtown in the “Loop”, where the main tourist areas are located.

I contacted a good friend who travels alone to far more unsettling places, she gave me excellent advice and suggested that I needed to follow some simple rules and relax, enjoy the city.

I loved Chicago, I have no regrets whatsoever about having been there, stayed there, explored everywhere I wanted to go. I talked to a lot of local people, on the trains, in the streets, in the shops, made a great new friend. Since my return home, I now know that this summer the rate of violent crime has soared.

I have no answers to the problem of escalating violence but the way its being dealt with currently is obviously not working. It is a disgrace that in this large wealthy city not all its citizens enjoy the quality of life they deserve. Racial segregation and the housing “projects” of an earlier era have caused misery to many lives. Gun crime is rife,  many lives could be saved by a ban on guns.

I was inspired to go to Chicago by a lecture at the Victoria and Albert Museum given by a young Chicagoan Timothy Long who told the incredible history of the pioneers, entrepreneurs and downright scallywags who created such a vibrant and extraordinarily forward-looking culture.

It was all about trade, exploration, determination and guts. The discovery of the water routes from the north east coast, through the Great Lakes to the southern end of Lake Michigan, thence the relatively short overland distance to one of the tributaries to the Mississippi and on downward to the South, opened up trades routes of great importance.

But the real key was the building of the Illinois and Michigan Canal allowing shipping from the Great Lakes through Chicago to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The population grew exponentially from 350 to 4000 in just 7 years.

And instead of low rise wooden buildings, the majority of which  burnt down in the great fire in 1871, the city is now the finest example of city planning and inspired building design and techniques. Indeed it is considered to be the birthplace of the skyscraper.

Photographs do not do justice to the exhilarating city but here are some attempts to capture an essence.

If you get the chance to go – go, do not be frightened of by a couple of white policemen in a squad car. One of them kindly gave me his personal email address, perhaps I should write and tell him that i’m fine and that I loved his city. He said “don’t leave without eating a Chicago deep pan pizza”,  and that was yet another piece of advice of theirs that I did not follow!

 

 

Pembrokeshire

Recently I spent a week in South Wales, St David’s Cathedral is a very special place, I last visited more than 30 years ago in the pouring rain, it looks gorgeous in sunlight, though the deep purple of the stone stands out so much better in rain.

St David's Cathedral


St David's CathedralSt David’s Cathedral

St David's Cathedral
Tombstones leaning against the perimeter wall
St David's Cathedral
Stained glass window

 

 

The Sun at last

Our boat trip lasted about 12 hours and during that time the sky was pretty much clouded over but during our trip back to Longyearbyen harbour the sun finally appeared. The sky turned blue and so of course did the water. The ocean was calm and smooth as silk, I’ve heard that expression before but this time it really moved like silk and was very reflective. I tried to focus on the birds following above us but it seemed impossible, as an amateur, to get the focus right as the birds flew unexpectedly close.

I’m pretty sure the generous shots of whisky provided by our delightful guide Stein only helped my technique. He was kind enough to say that our trip was the most convivial he had guided this year.

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Stein from the MS Langǿysund, watching out for Polar bears, sadly we didn’t get to see one.
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A bright blue line appeared along the coast, I caught it on camera so it can’t have just been an affect of the whisky.

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A Minke whale flashed its white back at us a we sailed past

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Pyramiden

Pyramiden is one of several abandoned Russian coal-mining towns, there is also Barentsburg which seems to have been larger and more complex. We chose to go to Pyramiden because the boat sails past the Nordensköld glacier.
A busy and fully equipped mining town, it was abruptly abandoned at the demise of USSR in 1998. Here is an excellent site giving full details of its history but these photos demonstrate how it looks right now.
Some of these images were taken with a phone camera but most were taken with a borrowed camera. The charming and kind Lisa lent me her camera to use, with my SD card, because my lovely camera had a hissy fit and decided it couldn’t bear the cold wind, the shutter refused to shut or open unless I removed the lens and kept the body of the camera warm for 10 minutes.

Lisa and Severin are half way through a 6 month tour of Scandinavian countries driving and living in an adapted Mercedes van. What a fabulous trip, I would love to do that. Such interesting people doing such a great thing, and so generous with their camera. (thanks )